by Ricky Buchanan, Assistive Technology User, and Dr Natasha Layton, Occupational Therapist
WHAT IS ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY?
Assistive technology, roughly defined, is “stuff that can make it easier for you to do stuff.” Some assistive technology is specifically designed for people with impairments, like a cane or a long-handled reacher. Other aids found in regular shops – like easy-grip veggie peelers – make things easier for everybody.
Assistive technology helps people to do stuff better when there is somebody to help choose what you need and somebody to teach you (or the people around you) how to use it.
HOW DOES ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY FIT IN WITH OTHER SUPPORTS TO MAKE LIFE EASIER?
Everyone, at some point or other, will find themselves trying to do daily tasks while managing an injury or impairment. There are really just six approaches we can take. Some of these options are medical. Others, like using personal assistance, can feel passive as they mean you are not doing the task yourself. Most people use a mixture of approaches.
TIPS FOR GARDENING WITH ARTHRITIC HANDS
1. Reduce impairment: Using hand therapy putty and exercises can help your hand(s) to function better.
2. Compensate for impairment: Using splints to support weakened joints.
3. Redesign activity: For example, learning to schedule rest breaks after every 10 minutes.
4. Use assistive technology devices: For example, power secateurs for gardening.
5. Redesign the environment: For example, by using raised gardening beds so you don’t have to kneel.
6. Using personal assistance, like hiring a gardener.
MYTHS ABOUT ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY
Mistaken beliefs about assistive technology can stop you from getting the most out of life. It isn’t just for older or disabled people – it can be helpful for everybody at any level of ability. Innovative design and universally accessible features are increasingly found in mainstream shops. Consumers can demand solutions which adapt to them, not the other way around!
Using assistive technology does not mean you have given up on your arthritis improving. It can help you in the bad patches or while you’re waiting for a new treatment to work.
Assistive technology solutions are things that change over time – your ability levels will change, your interests will change, and technology will advance. It isn’t just something you investigate once; it’s something that you can keep improving over your whole lifetime.
Assistive technology can assist with things other than physical impairments. Fatigue, memory loss, and trouble concentrating are among the many things that assistive technology solutions can help you with.
DESIGN FOR DIVERSITY
Products used to be designed for adult males. Then universal design ideas came along, and proposed that design should cater for the majority of the population.
Contemporary ‘inclusive design’ ideas suggest that we can design for 100% of the population; that there is no ‘normal’ and ‘disability’ design, but instead a range of designs will, together, cater for human diversity.
Can’t peel a potato? If you lack dexterity as you are a heavy manual labourer or someone with cerebral palsy, use a sturdy peeler with a built up, non-slip grip. If you are a younger person who fatigues easily or someone with joint impairments, an in-hand peeler may suit your grip. If you have issues with fatigue, try an automated peeler.
The Independent Living Centre website is a great source of impartial advice as to what is on the market, and how it may assist your individual needs.
Don’t put off starting with assistive technology! Protect your joints now and conserve your energy so you can use it on the things that really matter for you. If something is a struggle for you, there’s probably a strategy or device that can help you achieve your goals more easily. Many devices and supports are low cost and will ‘future proof’ you to keep going with the things you like doing. It’s an ongoing journey: Be open to other solutions and listen to your body.
WHO CAN HELP?
Most assistive technology products are commercially available. Assistive technology practitioners such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and good specialist suppliers will be able to explain your options, including the non-technological options such as energy conservation task and environmental adaptation. Other assistive technology users and peer supporters are a great source of information about living with, and adjusting to, assistive technology solutions.
Lots of assistive technology is simple stuff you can learn about yourself and purchase somewhere local such as a chemist. For more complex or expensive items, we recommend you contact an occupational therapist.
Financial support is available for many of the more costly assistive technologies through state and territory equipment funding schemes, and to eligible individuals through the NDIS or DVA. My Aged Care provides some financial support for assistive technology. Local community health centres have occupational therapists and physiotherapists who can assess you and explain your options.
A BETTER LIFE
Assistive technology really can make life better, and it’s one of those things that can change with you as your age and ability level changes – it’s not just something you do once.
There is good evidence that assistive technology can preserve independence, reduce hospital admissions by making people safer at home, prevent falls, help carers, maintain our health and community involvement and improve our quality of life.
> The ATSA Independent Living Expo is a great way to find out what’s on the market and talk to assistive technology users and practitioners. The Australian Rehabilitation & Assistive Technology Association (ARATA) will be presenting in Sydney on Wednesday, 10 May 2017 from 1.15pm to 2.00pm.
> Register for our upcoming Webinar: Arthritis Aids on 13 July 2017 and hear more from Assistive Technology Australia
The Australian Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Association (ARATA) is an active community of assistive technology users, allied health practitioners, researchers, providers and suppliers. Membership is open to people interested in helping to improve public policy and access to assistive technology, as well as to those looking to learn more about assistive technology provision, and to contribute to our community of practice.
Globally, the World Health Organisation recognises the huge potential of assistive technology to improve life for the millions of people who need it. Its GATE Initiative is a global co-operative to improve access to assistive technology.